Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lessons Learned

You can’t help learning lessons as you go through life; most we are not even aware of learning until years later.  I can think of three people I learned specific lessons from that influence my daily life and especially my life as a gardener.
Grandma Jayne as a young girl in Selma, Iowa. (Shes the one on the right)
When my grandma Jayne was in her eighties, she lived in Fairfield, Iowa during the spring, summer and fall,  then came and stayed with us during the winter.  Any stories you have heard about Midwest winters are probably under-exaggerated; they can be pretty horrible, especially for the elderly.  Grandma did have one son still living in Fairfield who was able to help her with repairs around the house, but Uncle Gene was a farmer and summer time was not a good time to ask for help.   

So Grandma decided to fix the loose shingles on the roof herself.  She knew this was dangerous, so she took extra care getting up and down the ladder, walking on the roof, getting the shingling done.  Fixing the roof wasn’t the problem.  Missing a step walking down the steps of the back porch later that day after she was done was what broke her hip.

Grandma got older, but she was still that young girl inside.  She raised four children through the depression as a single mom - later marrying again and helping to raise his kids.  She was traveling and exploring the country up to about the time she broke her hip - she organized and participated in walk-a-thons, rode motorcycles with my cousin in San Francisco, was an avid quilter and baker, and a prayer warrior; she was the best grandma and role model any girl could ever ask for. I miss her.

I didn’t think of it much back then, except for the irony of the situation.  As I have grown older though, I have remembered what happened to Grandma.  The things that are difficult and dangerous we prepare for and take extra care.  It is the simple things that tend to snag us: tripping over an uneven piece of sidewalk and breaking an ankle; slipping on steps coming out of an RV and cracking a vertebrae; going up a ladder when we are tired at the end of the day to clean out gutters and the ladder falling ( you know who you are!).  My mom was once laid up for almost half a year with a broken ankle – she was carrying a bean rack to the barn, walking backwards and stepped in a hole. 

I have seen so many of my friends and coworkers injure themselves doing simple things, that for several years now, I have started to take extra care even with simple tasks. I always hold onto the handrail while going down the stairs, I check the path I walk on and watch for any uneven spots, I try to be aware of my surroundings and my body in relationship to my surroundings.  I am only in my mid-fifties now, but a fall, a broken bone now, can determine my level of comfort during my sixties, seventies and on.  Just like I am paying for the long-distance running, rock climbing, biking that I did in my teens, twenties and early thirties – all those injuries add up.  So, I take a little bit more caution.  It is not the roof that gets you; it’s those few steps you slip on.

I lived on the northern Oregon coast for almost ten years, and loved those days when everyone gets out and starts working on their gardens.  I didn’t care for the challenge of trying to make an appointment with the chiropractor who is suddenly overwhelmed with patients.  My chiropractor told me during one of these spring visits that gardening is like exercise.  Would you go out and run, hike, bike, without warming up first?  

Going out and digging in the garden, carrying bags of fertilizer, kneeling down for hours at a time, these are all activities that can stress your muscles if you have not given them a chance to warm up first.  So before going out into the garden to work, do ten to fifteen minutes of stretching to warm up those muscles.  At the end of your time, after all the tools are put away, make sure you cool down your muscles by doing some gentle stretching.  You won’t hurt as much the next day, and might avoid the cost of going to the doctor.

A lot of my coworkers and friends are amazed at the amount of work I get done in my garden; they know that I have fibromyalgia and take care of a disabled daughter.  How do I do so much?  I learned a valuable lesson from an artist that I once knew. 

Jason Blackburn is a fiber artist that does fine-art embroideries.  Some of these take years to make; many have several thousand hours of work in their creation.  How did he get these done with working full-time outside of his art studio?

Always keep your tools handy, working in 15 minute blocks you can get a lot done!

I learned from Jason that you always have your tools handy, that you keep in mind the parts that you want to work on next, and you can accomplish a lot even if you only have fifteen minutes.  He used to go into his studio and work 15 to 30 minutes in the morning before going to work.  If you spent just 15 minutes doing something each day, on the weekdays only, over the course of a year you would have put in sixty-five hours!  
Buckeye Butterfly by Jason Blackburn - this took about 1800 hours to make - most of it in small blocks of time.
Detail from Queen of Cups - Irises. All his pictures are done with 1/2 strand of cotton floss.

 Much of Jason’s art was created in this way – just 15 minutes here and there.

How do I apply these lessons to the garden?  I watch where I walk – no telling what toy a grandchild would have put in a patch of tall grass for me to trip over.  When using ladders, I am extra careful and make sure that the footing for them is secure – and that I do stuff involving tools (ladders, chainsaws, power tools) early in the day, leaving weeding and planting seeds for later in the day when I am tired.  And I always keep my cell-phone in my pocket when I am doing something where I could fall and be hurt – especially if no one else is going to be around.  And I try to get out into the garden every day, even if it is only 15 minutes before work, or while waiting for dinner to cook. 

Those small amounts of time here and there can really add up.

On days when I could work the whole day in the garden, I don’t.  I just can’t anymore.  I work for 2-3 hours, and then I take a break for an hour.  Sit down, have a cup of tea, usually under the grape arbor or in the bean house, if the weather is nice and not too hot.  Sometimes I go in and just put my feet up and close my eyes for an hour.  Remember, this is supposed to be fun.  Don’t hurt yourself by trying to get so much done that you put yourself at risk.  Yep, we all remember the days when we were young and could work outside eight to ten hours without a break.  But if you are in your forties, fifties or older, you shouldn’t be trying to do that anymore.  Accept the limitations of your age; that doesn’t mean you can’t create a garden or enjoy what you do create.  You just do things a little slower.  And, take time to enjoy what you have done.  No one enjoys recovering from a strained back or muscle knots.

My reward comes at moments like Tuesday night when I came home and went out to pick some goodies for a friend coming over – to share with her some mesclun, radishes and peas for a salad.  I thinned the leeks (finally) and will put those to good use in salads, scrambled eggs, and veggie soup. I picked all the strawberries that were ripe and put out beer for the slugs.  Planted another row of radishes.  Picked the Broccoli Raab that was ready, sautéed them in butter and a little wine.  Yum.  I am planting a lot more Broccoli Raab next year.  

I've been eating spinach salad ( this one with leek trimmings) for weeks but was excited to finally have other spring greens!
Finally ready for the first harvest!
Mesclun before cutting
Mesclun after cutting - just took off about half it's height - it will grow back!
Radishes ready to pick
First real salad harvest - this bowl has Broccoli Raab, peas, radishes, leeks, and Mesclun.  And ripe strawberries!  Yes, I could have picked all of this up at the store, but would not have had the satisfaction of growing it myself.

My garden may look great to some people, but I see all that needs to be done, because I want to match the vision I have in my mind for it.  I’ll get there, a few minutes here, a few minutes there.  I just need to be patient.

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